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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > T, U, V > Trust in Government
 

Trust in Government

Positive, confident expectations of the intentions, motives, competence and behaviour of government.

(Thomas, Paul. (2008).  A Paper prepared for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission, Department of Political Science: University of Manitoba.  Retrieved on January 3, 2010 from 
http://www.psic-ispc.gc.ca/doc.php?did=46&lang=eng#tc-tm_3.)

---------------------------------


[The following comments on trust in government are drawn from a paper prepared by Paul Thomas for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission.]

“…[T]rust is a multi-dimensional concept, which can take on different meanings in different contexts and the factors which influence the degree of trust or mistrust in a given situation are many, interactive and changing over time. This is particularly true in the complex, turbulent and more transparent environment of the public sector.

Definitions of trust abound. The Webster's Dictionary defines it as "the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something".  Writing in the field of psychology and focusing on interpersonal relationships, Rousseau et al define trust as "a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behaviours or another.  Writing about trust in the social and political context, the influential sociologist, Fukuyama defines trust as: "The expectations that arise within the community that there will be regular, honest and cooperative behaviour based on commonly shared norms on the part of other members of the community".  In the discipline of economics, trust is defined in terms of whether it is cost-effective to trust others. These are just a few of the many perspectives from which trust can be understood and studied.

Based upon the available literature, a number of other propositions about trust are accepted here. First, trust encompasses both thoughts and feelings. In the language of psychology, there is both a cognitive (knowledge) and an affective (emotional) dimension to trust. Second, there is a future orientation some uncertainty and risk involved with placing trust in another individual or institution. Third, trust fluctuates over time. It is generally accepted that trust is slow to develop but can be quickly lost if is betrayed.

Fourth, there are numerous classification schemes in different academic fields used to describe different sources and types of trust. Two such schemes are particularly relevant to the work of parliamentary agencies. Kieran O'Hara makes a useful distinction between "global" and "local" trust.  Global trust (also called institutional trust) involves people trusting beyond their personal sphere and in relation to leaders, organizations, institutions and overall systems such as government of which they have only indirect and usually limited first-hand knowledge. Without such generalized trust in public bureaucracies, the police, healthcare providers and so on, society could not function effectively. In contrast, local trust (also called interpersonal trust) involves trusting people we actually know based on our interactions with them. Some commentators see global and local trust as linked, with both tracking downward as measured by opinion polls over the past several decades.

Other scholars take issue with the presumed linkage between the two types of trust and the suggestion of a generalized loss of trust throughout society. Russell Hardin, for example, argues that the decision to trust requires some intimate knowledge of motives and intentions based on past experience, which usually does not exist in the relationship most people have with government.  In other words, most citizens do not know enough about governments to trust them in the same way that they trust family members and close friends. Hardin concludes that most citizens lack sufficient knowledge to make a reasoned judgment of whether governments are trustworthy. He prefers the term "confidence" to describe citizen orientations towards governments.

Trust between and among institutions, and inside of individual institutions, are different from social and political trust in institutions by citizens in general.  Institutional trust usually involves some history of interaction and knowledge of the other parties involved in relationships of trust. This makes institutional trust closer to interpersonal trust, but it is not the same because often there are formal, authoritative relationships, including in some cases hierarchical and command-and-control relationships which structure and guide inter-institutional dealings. In the context of institutional arrangements of various kinds, there are many possible types of trust: roles-based, rules-based, historical, category-based, reputation, psychological "contracts", dispositional and so on. The identification of the various types of trust can be confusing, but it adds to our understanding of why and how trust is granted, and this is important to our understanding of how parliamentary agencies can generate trust in different domains and on different levels.”
     

Trust in Government

Positive, confident expectations of the intentions, motives, competence and behaviour of government.

(Thomas, Paul. (2008).  A Paper prepared for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission, Department of Political Science: University of Manitoba.  Retrieved on January 3, 2010 from 
http://www.psic-ispc.gc.ca/doc.php?did=46&lang=eng#tc-tm_3.)

---------------------------------


[The following comments on trust in government are drawn from a paper prepared by Paul Thomas for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission.]

“…[T]rust is a multi-dimensional concept, which can take on different meanings in different contexts and the factors which influence the degree of trust or mistrust in a given situation are many, interactive and changing over time. This is particularly true in the complex, turbulent and more transparent environment of the public sector.

Definitions of trust abound. The Webster's Dictionary defines it as "the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something".  Writing in the field of psychology and focusing on interpersonal relationships, Rousseau et al define trust as "a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behaviours or another.  Writing about trust in the social and political context, the influential sociologist, Fukuyama defines trust as: "The expectations that arise within the community that there will be regular, honest and cooperative behaviour based on commonly shared norms on the part of other members of the community".  In the discipline of economics, trust is defined in terms of whether it is cost-effective to trust others. These are just a few of the many perspectives from which trust can be understood and studied.

Based upon the available literature, a number of other propositions about trust are accepted here. First, trust encompasses both thoughts and feelings. In the language of psychology, there is both a cognitive (knowledge) and an affective (emotional) dimension to trust. Second, there is a future orientation some uncertainty and risk involved with placing trust in another individual or institution. Third, trust fluctuates over time. It is generally accepted that trust is slow to develop but can be quickly lost if is betrayed.

Fourth, there are numerous classification schemes in different academic fields used to describe different sources and types of trust. Two such schemes are particularly relevant to the work of parliamentary agencies. Kieran O'Hara makes a useful distinction between "global" and "local" trust.  Global trust (also called institutional trust) involves people trusting beyond their personal sphere and in relation to leaders, organizations, institutions and overall systems such as government of which they have only indirect and usually limited first-hand knowledge. Without such generalized trust in public bureaucracies, the police, healthcare providers and so on, society could not function effectively. In contrast, local trust (also called interpersonal trust) involves trusting people we actually know based on our interactions with them. Some commentators see global and local trust as linked, with both tracking downward as measured by opinion polls over the past several decades.

Other scholars take issue with the presumed linkage between the two types of trust and the suggestion of a generalized loss of trust throughout society. Russell Hardin, for example, argues that the decision to trust requires some intimate knowledge of motives and intentions based on past experience, which usually does not exist in the relationship most people have with government.  In other words, most citizens do not know enough about governments to trust them in the same way that they trust family members and close friends. Hardin concludes that most citizens lack sufficient knowledge to make a reasoned judgment of whether governments are trustworthy. He prefers the term "confidence" to describe citizen orientations towards governments.

Trust between and among institutions, and inside of individual institutions, are different from social and political trust in institutions by citizens in general.  Institutional trust usually involves some history of interaction and knowledge of the other parties involved in relationships of trust. This makes institutional trust closer to interpersonal trust, but it is not the same because often there are formal, authoritative relationships, including in some cases hierarchical and command-and-control relationships which structure and guide inter-institutional dealings. In the context of institutional arrangements of various kinds, there are many possible types of trust: roles-based, rules-based, historical, category-based, reputation, psychological "contracts", dispositional and so on. The identification of the various types of trust can be confusing, but it adds to our understanding of why and how trust is granted, and this is important to our understanding of how parliamentary agencies can generate trust in different domains and on different levels.”

Approved for glossaryposting by Ben Eisen on February 27, 2011


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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance